An obvious thing for a series like Star Trek: Year Four to do would be to take some of Star Trek‘s familiar motifs and refine them a bit. It doesn’t necessarily have to “update” them for “a modern audience” because that’s such an overused and cliched expression, but it can sometimes be helpful to give a little nod to the fact that, say, this series is being written in 2007 instead on 1969. And, with its second issue, Year Four does pretty much that: This story is very much like what I’d expect Star Trek in 2007 to look like.
Or, perhaps more accurately, what Star Trek made against the cultural and political backdrop of 2007 would look like. On a pit stop to Aarak 3, one of the Federation’s largest suppliers of Dilithium crystals in the galaxy, the Enterprise crew has the briefest of moments to reflect on how different the planet is since the Federation signed a mining agreement with the local government before they are attacked by a group of terrorists who try to blow the place up with a handheld explosive. The terrorists are part of a resistance group known as The Traditionalists, who feel Aarak’s alliance with the Federation is a betrayal of their culture’s fundamental beliefs, in particular the belief that Dilithium is a magickal substance and that in mining and selling it, the ruling classes are draining the planet’s spiritual essence. This leads to a minor Prime Directive debate, as while supporting the aristocracy to secure the Dilithium would constitute interfering, the Traditionalists hold that the Federation has already violated the Prime Directive by giving one side the technology needed to turn it into a mining superpower.
So there’s more to discuss in this story than there was last time, but let’s first address the two things that predictably made me upset right from the get-go. First of all, yes, it is exceedingly difficult for me not to immediately side with the Traditionalists. Stand-ins for an indigenous populace angry that their culture is being stripped away from them due to the encroachment of material and ideological Westernism? Yeah, sign me up. There’s no way I’m not going to be sympathetic to that. There’s also the little matter of the Dilithium crystals being sacred totems, which the story painfully glosses over. Spock makes a comment about how “there is nothing magical about a matter-antimatter reaction” that absolutely rubs me the wrong way, and no real effort is made to make up for this. Kirk stops Spock from being even more offensive and later there’s a scene where Scotty describes how “magical” it is to bring life to his engines, but that’s a cop-out, isn’t it? That’s the smarmy, substanceless Disney version of magic. That’s not spiritual and symbolic power, that’s something you put on a mass-market greeting card that you sell for $5 at a tourist kiosk.
I mean, Star Trek wasn’t always great at magick to be sure, especially early on. There were a frankly appalling number of stories where the Enterprise crew waltzed in to tell people how backwards, superstitious and primitive they were.…